"Do Not Discard!"

Join this bionic grandma in her battle against "the wrinkled years."

"Do Not Discard!"



I didn’t ask the right questions.

I had no clue because I’m healthy. The only pills I’ve taken for years are vitamins and baby aspirin. And I wondered how many others out there on this back side of life’s rainbow are in my situation.  I was ignorant because I didn’t ask the right questions of my doctors which might have led to behavioral changes and prevented the choices I had to make today.

I have a plaque buildup in the carotid arteries going to my brain.  That’s cholesterol and the more it accumulates the greater my chances of a stroke. The odd thing is there seems to be no buildup of plaque in my heart and all my life I’ve been blessed with extremely high, good cholesterol which runs through my body gobbling up the bad cholesterol like Pac Man of video-game fame.

It was the physician’s assistant on my vascular team who enlightened me after what I thought was a routine ultrasound of my carotid arteries. The team had been screening me every six months and I never asked why. I just trusted that they were keeping me healthy.

“You have a 40 percent blockage,” she said. “But don’t worry about it.  Nothing needs to be done until it reaches 80.”

“Wait a minute,” I thought to myself. “80 percent means only a 20 percent blood flow to my brain. Are they nuts?”  But I left without asking the right questions and another appointment date six months out.

Luckily I had an appointment with my cardiologist within a month. It had been almost two years since I had checked in with Dr. Mitch Driesman. I was healthy and during that time I was getting replacement parts — new knees and a hip.

My EKG was normal. I seem heart healthy. But I told him about the plaque in my carotids.  He pulled up the records from my vascular team. That’s the great thing about being in the Yale New Haven Medical System, they share.

I confessed my concern and asked if I went on cholesterol-free diet could I reverse it.

“Perhaps . . .” he said thinking, “but it’s not always effective. . . I could put you on a statin. It would work.”

“Could I get off it after the problem is solved? How long would I have to be on it?”

“The rest of your life.”

That was unexpected. I’m not a pill-popper.  I’ve learned that pills not only directly solve a problem, but affect your whole system — body and mind — in other subtle ways. We discussed the pros and cons. Fortunately at 40 percent blockage my situation was not dire yet.  And we reached a plan of attack against plaque.

I went to the lab next door for a cholesterol test to have a new baseline. My last was two years ago.  And I’m going on a no-to-low cholesterol diet immediately.  In six months I will have another blood test, an ultrasound and return for a consultation with Dr. Driesman to see what’s working and what’s not.

“My dog is going to love this,” I said shaking my head.

“Why’s that.” he asked puzzled.

“I just bought six pounds of hamburger for the freezer.”

If you’re on this side of life’s rainbow with me, you need to find out how much your carotid artery is blocked. And you need to have a conversation with your cardiologist. What affects one part of your body affects it all.

 In her 80’s my mother fell down a flight of stairs and had a stroke three days later. We think it was because she hit her head. However no one really knows. A cousin and a half-aunt both suffered strokes in their mid-60s and died. But they were both diabetic and heavily overweight.  I am determined not to follow suit and to stick around.  I’m having too much fun. How determined are you?